How To Start a Freshwater Shrimp Tank

Freshwater shrimp are growing in popularity, becoming readily available and some companies are producing special “shrimp” tanks. I will go over things like housing, tank mates and general care. So in this post I will describe some of the basics of starting up a freshwater shrimp tank. Your first thoughts need to be one of the two; what type of shrimp or what size of tank. We will start with type of shrimp.

freshwater shrimp tank

Shrimp Types

The easiest and most recommend starter shrimp are the neocaridina species of shrimp. The Red Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina Heteropoda var. Red) aka RCS falls into this category and can be found at many local pet shops. There are also other variations to this type of shrimp that require the same things and are usually just as easy to care for. To name a few; Yellow Shrimp (Neocaridina heteropoda var “yellow”), Blue Pearl Shrimp (Neocaridina cf. zhangjiajiensis var. blue) & Snowball Shrimp (Neocaridina cf. zhangjiajiensis var. white).

There are other types of shrimp as well, but generally I would recommend starting out with one of the above as they are cheaper, hardier and more available. Although species like Caridina are not necessarily hard to care for, they are a bit more finicky and not quite as easy to breed. Remember you can mix certain species together, however neocaridina shrimp will interbreed. So a yellow shrimp and RCS could breed, but that is usually not wanted and you should probably avoid. There are also more shrimp out there, but neocaridina and caridina seem to be most popular and easiest to breed as many people want.

Tank Sizes

Now that you know what type of shrimp you want you need to figure out about housing. Freshwater shrimp usually tend to do better in shrimp only tanks due to their small size, we will get into tank mates later on. For now we will continue as if you are in fact doing a shrimp only tank. Yes it is true the age old rule of thumb bigger tank is better, however that is not needed for shrimp. I have seen plenty of people keeping them in unheated — unfiltered vases. I would recommend using a 2 – 10 gallon tank, a larger tank will allow for plenty to be kept as they usually breed quite easily.

Equipment Kit

You’ve decided on tank size and shrimp type now you need to pick out the equipment. A simple air driven sponge filter will work, as well as an internal or a hang on back power filter. If using a power filter you want to use some sort of mesh or filter padding around the inlet to prevent baby shrimp from being sucked up. Many times when ordering shrimp you will receive small shrimp. I like to keep my shrimp tanks at 75°F, although they can withstand from 68°F-85°F. Pick out any heater rated for your size of tank and keep it around 75-78°F and the shrimp should be happy. Lighting is really for you to enjoy your shrimp and maybe you have live plants.

The lighting is totally dependent on plants really. Small LED fixtures would work perfect for just shrimp. Florescent will be better for live plants, I used a simple household lamp with a CFL bulb on my 2.5g.

Tank Decoration

Decorating the tank can be fun as it makes the tank unique to you. Nearly any aquarium safe substrate is fine. Sand seems to be favored by many shrimp enthusiasts as the shrimp can easily graze throughout it, although gravel would be fine to use as well. There are now some specialty shrimp substrates on the market which I am hearing good things about, however these are not needed and tend to be pricey. Shrimp do enjoy live plants and they can help lead to an overall healthier environment so I would recommend getting live plants. Mosses are very popular as shrimp enjoy grazing upon them and they only need minimal lighting.

There are many mosses out there, Java Moss seeming to be the easiest to find. Floaters like duckweed or salvinia are great, but may block the light for plants below if you are using weak lighting. For your hard scape this is up to you and again anything that is aquarium safe should work. The shrimp will enjoy having some rocks or wood in there to hide when they molt.

Feeding is a pretty easy step, but be careful not to overfeed. These shrimp can be fed daily, but not more than what they can consume within a few hours. They can go days without being fed, they are scavengers and will feast on many different algae. From specialty shrimp food, algae wafers or even sinking fish food pellets they will all work fine. I prefer to give mine quality brand name foods. They love algae wafers broken up as usually a whole one is too much food unless if there are many shrimp.

Community fish

Tank mates can be tricky and in all honesty I recommend just keeping shrimp in a shrimp only tank if breeding is in mind. It is possible in a planted tank to keep and breed them as they will have plenty of hiding spots. Shrimplets can stray away from fish and adults are usually big enough not to be eaten by peaceful community fish. However there really isn’t any fish besides maybe an oto that wouldn’t mind scooping up the babies. Even the full grown shrimp are still relatively small and most fish will eat it if it can fit in their mouth, and others will make them fit in their mouth. It is likely that adult shrimp would be fine with small non aggressive fish like cardinal tetras, guppies, danios etc.

As they have small mouths, but the babies won’t stand a chance unless if plenty of cover is provided. So if keeping with fish just be cautious. I have heard of them being kept even with dwarf cichlids in densely planted tanks. Snails should be fine with shrimp.

Important notes

A few other words of advice — They like clean water and are very sensitive even to nitrates. Copper is deadly for all inverts I believe so stray away from any product with copper. Shrimplets(baby shrimp) in the Neocaridina and Caridina family care for their selves as they are miniature versions of adults and the adult shrimp will not harm them. If you see a molting don’t freak, molting is a good thing. Dead shrimp will be pale white, not just a transparent clear cracked up shell. I hear Caridina shrimp can be sensitive to anubias and Cryptocoryne plants. I haven’t seen any problems though with these and neocaridina shrimp.

If you overfeed you may start seeing small white specks or little worm like critters that squiggle around. Some mistake these as baby shrimp. These are actually nematodes or planaria and although they are usually harmless they can be unsightly. Ease up on feeding and they should start disappearing.

My last word of advice is what I say is very important and many people jump the gun and see failure or many dead shrimp quickly. Be sure that your freshwater shrimp tank is fully cycled, and by this I don’t mean running the tank for a few days. A full cycle is needed, let the ammonia spike and the nitrites and nitrates come in. Once the nitrates are low and all others 0 you have a cycled tank. It can take a month+/- to have a tank fully cycled, do not rush. These shrimp even do better when put into a well established tank. Some shrimp will require brackish water for larvae.


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